Scientists who have generated brain tissue from human skin are claiming a major breakthrough.
The researchers wrote on the University of Cambridge website that their findings could speed up the hunt for new treatments for diseases of the cerebral cortex, such as epilepsy and autism, to neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
"Today’s findings will enable scientists to study how the human cerebral cortex develops, how it ‘wires up’ and how that can go wrong (a common problem leading to learning disabilities)," they wrote.
Their findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Created cerebral cortex cells – those that make up the brain’s grey matter -- will allow them to "recreate brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, in the lab," they wrote, providing "previously impossible insight."
It may also allow them to develop and test new drugs to stop the diseases progressing.
Britain's Sunday Telegraph reported that until now, it has only been possible to generate tissue from the cerebral cortex by using controversial embryonic stem cells, obtained by the destruction of an embryo.
Such research threw up ethical concerns, which in turn led to limited availability of funding and materials.
The paper quoted Dr Rick Livesey, who led the research at the university's Gurdon Institute, as saying:
''The cerebral cortex makes up 75 percent of the human brain. It is where all the important processes that make us human take place. It is, however, also the major place where disease can occur.
''We have been able to take reprogrammed skin cells so they develop into brain stem cells and then essentially replay brain development in the laboratory.
''We can study brain development and what goes wrong when it is affected by disease in a way we haven't been able to before. We see it as a major breakthrough in what will now be possible.''